In this update of the 1980s television show, Denzel Washington is Robert McCall, a mysterious former black ops secret agent type who is just trying to settle down in Boston and live a quiet life working at a hardware store and helping out the people around him. But when he befriends a young prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is subsequently beaten up by the Russian goons that pimp her out, Robert cannot sit idly by. Taking a page from his previous occupation, he sets about… equalizing things.
The Equalizer is just a much-too-late victory lap for director Antoine Fuqua and Washington, not a worthy successor to their previous collaboration. It’s lazy, clichéd, unimaginatively shot and edited, and pretty stupid for the majority of the runtime. Sure, Training Day may have also been an overheated, pulpy action movie at its core, but it had the strength of David Ayer’s firecracker script, allowing Denzel to revel in juicy monologues and Fuqua the chance to play around in the interesting margins of an atypical police procedural. Here, working from a blunt script from Richard Wenk (writer of the modern day action classics 16 Blocks and The Expendables 2), they’ve got a foundation no different from any other generic studio action movie made in the last 20 years. And let’s not kid ourselves – Fuqua has always been a Hollywood hired hand, not an action auteur.
Yet you can never underestimate the power of Denzel. As conventional as the whole thing is, he still manages to bring charm and a certain level of gravitas to his performance. Plus he kills a lot of people. So many people. And all in brutally inventive ways. He’s essentially lifted to the level of superhero action star here. There’s never a moment where you honestly think he’s in any danger. He’s calm and collected, smart and efficient, strong and fast.
The main villain here is a psycho Russian gangster named Teddy (played with relish by Marton Csokas) who genuinely unnerves as he pummels and kills anyone who gets in his way of trying to get to Robert. Yet as soon as he does come face to face with Denzel, he comes off like a wimp. Denzel doesn’t even look that fit (he’s just a pudgy middle-aged dude) and he still manages to be the biggest badass in any given scene.